Ever since a group of World War I veterans got together to form a new organization for those who served in the military a century ago, the American Legion has fought to serve those who served their country.
"We’re very oriented towards serving existing veterans," said Dave Pristash, commander of American Legion Nordonia Hills Post 801 and member of Nordonia Hills VFW Post 6768. "We and our [ladies] auxiliary really focus on doing things like that."
Steve Spencer, past commander of Claire Eggleston American Legion Post 803 in Aurora, said the 100th anniversary means "never let us forget the sacrifices that all military personnel and their families have made."
Spencer, who served in the Army at Madigan General Hospital at Fort Lewis, Washington, said the post planned to recognize the 100th anniversary at its Veterans Day ceremony.
"We celebrate the Armistice and the formation of the American Legion on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month at the Veterans Memorial at Veterans Park [on Route 82]," he said.
Jim Garrison, adjutant with Lee-Bishop Post 464 in Hudson, said the post marked the 100th anniversary at the centennial year’s beginning, at its 2018 Veterans Day ceremony by the Boy Scout Cabin on the southwest corner of the city green. Garrison said a plaque with the names of Hudson residents who served during World War I was removed from the city’s clock tower, cleaned and then installed at a World War I memorial. Garrison said the project was put together by local architect Chris Bach.
"The members who founded the post [in 1920], their names are on that plaque," said Garrison.
Helping veterans has long been vital to the American Legion.
"During that 100 years, they’ve been very active in getting veterans benefits from Congress," said Bill Hostutler, chaplain with American Legion Kneil-Lawrentz Post 255 in Tallmadge. "It’s probably one of the most influential lobbies in getting benefits for veterans."
In March 1919, members of the American Expeditionary Force met in Paris to get the ball rolling in forming the organization, according to The American Legion’s website. The American Legion’s name was officially adopted and a draft preamble and constitution were approved at a caucus in St. Louis less than two months later and the organization’s emblem about a month after that. In September 1919, Congress chartered The American Legion and its first convention took place in Minneapolis. Among the actions taken, the preamble and constitution were approved and Indianapolis was chosen as the site of the national headquarters.
"When it formed, it was an all-inclusive organization for all veterans," said Pristash, who served in the Army from 1965-69 and was a Green Beret second lieutenant in Vietnam for four months in 1967 until he was wounded.
"We allow all veterans in, whether they served in combat or not, so it’s a little different from the VFW, where you have to have served in combat."
Representatives also approved a resolution to support the Boy Scouts of America and now the American Legion is the chartering agency for more than 1,700 Scouting units.
After that, the American Legion began working on its core mission of helping veterans and their families. Through efforts at least in part by the American Legion, the U.S. Veterans Bureau, later the Veterans Administration, was created in August 1921.
But what the legion calls its "single greatest legislative achievement" was the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, more commonly known as the original GI Bill of Rights, came near the end of World War II. It made it easier for eight million veterans to go to school, get better jobs, and purchase homes and President Franklin Roosevelt signed it into law on June 22, 1944.
In 1966, the legion began its campaign, which continues today, for a full accounting of those missing in action; in 1982, it donated $1 million towards the construction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.; in 1983 it sponsored a study looking into the effects of Agent Orange on Vietnam veterans; and in 1989, after years of effort by the legion, the VA was elevated to cabinet-level status and the U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals to deal with veterans claims became operational.
In 1990, the legion established the Family Support Network to help families of deployed service members and in October 2001, created the American Legion Scholarship Fund to benefit the children of service members killed on or after Sept. 11, 2001.
A recent action, which the American Legion has pushed for years, finally took effect earlier this year when Congress expanded who was eligible to join the legion. For most of its history, only honorably discharged veterans who served during congressionally designated conflict years could be members, but now veterans who served at any time after World War II are welcome and the American Legion now has nearly two million members.
Over the years, the American Legion has taken action on other private and legislative initiatives to help veterans, as well as providing help to medical causes, such as a $50,000 grant to help the then small and struggling American Heart Association in the 1940s, as well as the nation’s youth.
Veterans Day was originally Armistice Day marking the end of the First World War at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918 and service to the veterans who fought in that war was the original aim of the organization, a mission that has expanded.
Pristash put the anniversary into perspective.
"A 100th is always a big deal," he said. "You know we’ve been around. Ohio was one of the states that was pretty instrumental in forming it. Other than that, last year was 99 years and next year will be 101 years and we’ll still be around."
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at 330-541-9431, email@example.com or @JeffSaunders_RP.